Oysters are the name of the game, and the South Fork Sea Farmers have everything you need for a summer you'll never forget.
Jeff Ragovin with his oyster mesh bags coming out of the water.
With everyone running to the water, it’s easy to be distracted by what shines on the surface— but when you take a deeper look underneath, even more exciting things are in the works. It all began at the East Hampton Shellfish Hatchery, tells South Fork Sea Farmers head of development and local oyster grower Jeff Ragovin. “I was reading this annual report that talked about how the hatchery was seeding all of the town’s harbors and bays with oysters, scallops and clams,” says Ragovin. “I was blown away by the amount of output and what they are doing for the environment, and that’s when a group of us started to come together to launch the educational arm of the gardening program.” Working hand in hand with the hatchery, South Fork Sea Farmers was born, and the small group of original growers has now blossomed into over 100 families participating in five locations—Three Mile Harbor, Hog Creek, Napeague, Accabonac Harbor, Lake Montauk—lined across the Hamptons’ east end. “People have not only gotten in touch with the environment, but they feel proud that they are growing their own food and they are also doing something great at the same time. The 100 families that are growing are a group of really invigorated, eco-conscious folks.”
Don’t know where to start? No need to worry; the sea farmers have you covered. “All of the equipment is provided, so all people need to do is show up,” says Ragovin. “New gardeners will come down for orientation and we’ll show them how everything works. After we distribute seed, they’ll put them in mesh bags and then those bags will go into a floating cage.” The cages will then float on the surface of the water, which is loaded with micronutrients and algae that allow the oysters to grow faster. “Everyone has a numbered cage, so they go to their designated harbor, into the water, pull the cage in and take the mesh bags out to clean the oysters—which is actually kind of a fun process—in order to clear all of the life that starts growing on it.” As these ocean friends grow, the oyster will develop a very thin shell that needs to be processed and then go back in the water with their mesh bags and continue to grow.
Not only is this a fun summer activity for friends and family, but it is also a sustainable practice that benefits the water ecosystem and community. “A single oyster filters 50 gallons of water a day,” says Ragovin. “So when you think about 100 families growing oysters, with 50 gallons of water a day… you’re filtering 5 million gallons of water a day.” On top of being a tasty treat, they also keep the waters clean and remove harmful algae that pollute the bays. South Fork Sea Farmers also note that education is at the heart of farming. The South Fork Sea Farmers are not blind to the environmental impact and take pride in being stewards of their own marine habitats. “We want other coastal communities all over the country—not only in the Hamptons—to have community oyster farms. With the potential growth, more water will become clean, and the habitat life for all of the fish will improve as well. There’s a big impact that happens from just growing oysters.”
Photography by: From top to bottom: BACKGROUND PHOTO BY INES ALVAREX FDEZ/UNSPLASH, RAGOVIN PHOTO BY JENNA GOLDRING